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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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The Monsal Trail - in the White Peak.

Posted Monday, June 4, 2007

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The Monsal Trail

The Monsal Trail runs for eight and a half miles from Blackwell Mill Junction at the head of Chee Dale about three miles east of Buxton, to Coombs Road Viaduct a mile south east of the market town of Bakewell.

For most of it’s length the trail follows the course of the old Midland Railway line through the heart of the Peak National Park.

`Hassop Station is now the Country Book Store'

The construction of the line was not without controversy and both the Duke of Devonshire and the Duke of Rutland objected to the proposals, which were originally to route the line from the rail-head at Rowsley straight up the Derwent Valley and through Chatsworth Park. The Duke of Rutland similarly rejected the alternative proposal to route the line up the adjacent Wye Valley. Eventually a compromise was reached with the Duke of Rutland allowing the line to pass close to Haddon Hall via a tunnel, with a station built at Bakewell bearing his coat of arms, whilst further north the Duke of Devonshire had a station built for himself at Hassop, which is now the Country Book Store.

The line was completed and opened to traffic in 1863 and operated for a century carrying both freight and passengers before it’s final closure as a result of the `Beeching Axe’ during the 1960’s.

It was later purchased from British Rail for the Peak National Park and after the structures were made safe, the track and other obstacles removed, it was re-opened to the public as the Monsal Trail in 1980.

The Trail is interrupted by four closed tunnels and alternative footpaths loop away and back to the Trail along the open sections, although the alternative route through Chee Dale to Miller’s Dale is the more difficult with stepping stones and slippery riverside rocks for the walker to negotiate.

Most of the Monsal Trail is not suitable for cyclists, unlike the Tissington and High Peak Trails which both have cycle-hire centres,- with the exception of the Bakewell to Longstone section which is regarded as suitable for horse-riders and cyclists.

There are car parks at the former stations of Bakewell and Miller’s Dale, with additional `pay and display’ parking available at various points along the Trail, notably at the northern end near Topley Pike, at Monsal head, White Lodge and Tideswell Dale. Parking is also available in Bakewell town centre, but it is especially impossible to find space available on Monday’s when the weekly market and cattle market take place in the town!

The western end of the Monsal Trail begins near Blackwell Mill at a point where road, river and former railway converge at the geographical junction of Wye Dale, Chee Dale and Great Rocks Dale. Here there is a car park beside the main A6 where the road meets the River Wye as it tumbles over a weir just below and to the east of Topley Pike.

An alternative starting point with parking facilities is at Miller’s Dale Station.

From this point the Monsal Trail follows the deep valley of the River Wye eastward as it cuts through the central plateau of carboniferous limestone and allows the walker access into the tranquil and picturesque heart of the White Peak and to some of Derbyshire’s most beautiful dales.

The first of these is Chee Dale which the Trail enters beneath a brick bridge and continues through two short tunnels and under and over two bridges that span the Wye. The larger of the two bridges carries the Trail over the river and into the first of three more closed tunnels. Here the path leaves the Trail before skirting the river’s edge via a series of stepping stones and following the Wye beneath towering limestone tors as it bends beneath Wormhill Springs and regains the Trail at the western end of Miler’s Dale.

There are some interesting examples of 19th century commercial limekilns to both east and west of Miller’s Dale station.

Beyond Miller’s Dale station the Trail follows the south bank of the Wye all the way down the beautiful dale until it crosses the river at the next closed tunnel near Litton Mill. The path again leaves the line and switchbacks down to cross the river by a low bridge before bending to the right and leading up the village street to the old mill.

Litton Mill was opened in 1782 and became notorious for the harsh and abusive treatment that the owner, Ellis Needham meted out to the child labourers brought in from London and other big cities to fuel the wheels of industry. This cruel exploitation caused the deaths of many children, some as young as 9 or 10, as their graves in Tideswell and Taddington churchyards will testify.

From Litton Mill the Trail follows the concessionary path beside the river down the glorious gorge of Miller’s Dale and past Cressbrook Hall to Water-cum-Jolly Dale and to Cressbrook Mill. The mill was first opened in 1783 as a Cotton Mill, and powered by the Cressbrook stream. It was built by William Newton on the site of a small herb distillery and used by Richard Arkwright to supplement his mills at Cromford.

The original building was destroyed by fire and another mill built soon afterwards which became known as `Old Mill’.

The splendid early Georgian building seen today was built in 1812 to provide accommodation for the workforce, as well as for the production of cotton, and used the waters of the river Wye as it’s power source. Water turbines were introduced in 1890, and `Big Mill’ as it was known continued in production until 1965.

It has recently undergone a complete internal transformation being converted into extremely desirable units of luxury accommodation.

The Trail crosses a bridge over the river at the rear of the mill and then climbs up the daleside before curving left and regaining the old rail line at the eastern end of the tunnel.

The Trail continues into Upperdale and the pretty bridge over the river comes into view beside Upperdale Farm on the left. This carries the lane which leads to the old site of Monsal Dale station over the river. The Trail passes the old station platform, now wreathed in rank vegetation, and the magnificent viaduct comes into view at Monsal Head, with the scree slopes towering up to the left. There is ample car-parking at Monsal Head and refreshments available from either of two cafes, or at the pub itself, which also serves evening meals in the dining area. The Trail crosses the viaduct almost in the shadow of Fin Cop which was a Roman look-out post and here meets another closed tunnel. Monsal Head marks the place where the Trail departs from the River Wye and path leads across the wooded dale edge up to the Monsal Head car-park. At the road junction opposite the Monsal Head Hotel the Trail follows the minor road into Little Longstone. It turns southward over a stile and between two gates at the bottom of the hill out of the village, running gently down though a series of gates, before crossing a wall stile to re-join the old railway line as it runs to the south of Great Longstone. The Trail passes beneath three bridges on it’s approach to Thornbridge Hall a couple of miles north of Ashford-in-the-Water, and continues for a similar distance through ever softening countryside towards the rolling hills which surround the old town of Bakewell. The Trail continues beneath three road bridges before it arrives at the old Bakewell station and from here it is but a short distance to the end of the Trail. It cuts north of the town and runs behind Castle Hill and skirts the golf course as it enters the grounds of Haddon Park and comes to it’s final destination beneath Calton Pastures at the at Coombs Road viaduct.

 
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